Search This Blog

Monday, December 21, 2009

It's Christmas time again!

Christmas as celebrated by Catholics and early Protestants a few hundred years ago was not the secular holiday we recognize today. It was a "Christes Maesee" (Old English for Christ's Mass) or Nativity service.

In 18th century England & America non-puritans who celebrated Christmas did so by churchgoing, holly in windows, caroling, mumming, some dancing, adult visiting and dinner parties featuring mince pie, fruitcake & other seasonal foods. Children and exchanging of gifts were not featured in Christmas celebration. Charles Dickens and the transformation of the Dutch Saint Nicholas into Santa Claus changed the spirit of Christmas.

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, the same year that the first Christmas card was published. Both the book and the card helped popularize the phrase "Merry Christmas". Dickens' popular book had an extremely powerful influence on undermining opposition to Christmas, especially among those influenced by Puritans in England and New England. Dickens used Scrooge to symbolize the idea that those who don't celebrate Christmas are uncharitable, twisted, mean-spirited and socially isolated. Dickens depicted Christmas as a one-day family event held in the home rather than a 12-day public holiday -- thus contributing to changing the way Christmas was celebrated. Central to the Dickens Christmas celebration was a lavish family dinner.

In 1957 Dr. Seuss reinforced the negative image of those who don't want to celebrate Christmas with his picture-book How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The Grinch -- a nasty mountain hermit -- steals Christmas paraphernalia and plans to destroy it. But his heart is touched by the sound of Christmas carols, and he becomes transformed (as happened to Scrooge).

The World War I Christmas Truce of 1914 has often been romanticized as an example of how Christmas love can triumph over the savagery & killing of war. But it is no exaggeration to say that the occasion of Christmas evoked shared sentiments, empathy and goodwill among the British & German troops who enjoyed the relief of fraternizing from the stress of shooting & dodging shells.

Gallop polls have shown that over 90% of Americans regard Christmas to be their favorite holiday. Many love the fun of giving and receiving presents. Christmas has become, above all, a celebration of family. For most, the feelings of sharing, togetherness and love experienced at Christmas-time is a special joy. But the expectations some family members project upon other members often have the character of "familial moral duty". The season thus frequently occasions reopening old hurts and conflicts. This forces many people to re-examine their lives, especially because Christmas is a period which interrupts routing daily living. Resolutions for the New Year are often the result.

No comments: